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6 tips to help you become an outstanding car salesperson

If you do make a mistake at some point in the sales process (we're human, after all), don't become evasive or avoid taking responsibility.

Learning to become a successful car salesperson can seem like a daunting task. But in reality, keeping a few essential tips in mind will help you exceed your customer’s expectations and your own.

Remember, a vehicle is the second most expensive purchase that a person will make in their lifetime. These machines are designed to allow people to live their life while keeping their families and friends safe in the process. Selling a vehicle the right way means that you must be keenly aware of these simple facts when a customer first steps foot on your lot, calls you on the phone, or sends an online inquiry.

Let’s jump right in with the top six tips on how to be a successful car salesperson. 

1. Practice active listening

Burn this truth into your brain: most salespeople don’t know how to ask the right questions, and they do a terrible job at actually listening.

Active listening is a series of skills that are designed to provide you with crucial information and allow your customers to feel valued and heard in the sales process. While active listening is a skill that develops over your career, the most crucial element of the active listening process is asking the right questions to guide the conversation in the right direction. These questions are known as open-ended questions, and when used correctly, they will completely transform your approach to working with customers. 

Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a simple yes or no answer. Instead, they require the customer to think and answer your question with crucial details that can help you close the deal down the line. Open-ended questions allow you to uncover the true reason a customer is standing there in the first place and position your product much more effectively with laser-guided product knowledge, empathy, and honesty. 

We know you love your brand, and one of your favorite things to do is rattle off all the cool things about a particular vehicle. But this will do nothing to close a sale if your features and benefits spiel doesn’t address the customer’s pain points. The goal is to get the customer to talk so they can tell you their pain points. Once you ask an open-ended question, do not speak, interrupt, interject, or otherwise devalue your interaction. If you ask a thought-provoking question, you’re bound to get a thought-provoking answer that can swing the sale in your favor. 

A good example of a close-ended question in the context of purchasing a vehicle would be, “What kind of car do you have now?” You’ll most likely get a factual, non-contextual answer, and it’s a question you could have answered on your own by watching what your customer pulled up in when they rolled onto your lot. 

Instead, try “Why are you looking to replace your current vehicle?” 

This simple question immediately forces your prospect to recount why they’re there. In the process of answering this question, you will undoubtedly uncover what type of vehicle they currently drive. You’ll also find out their buying reasons, such as better gas mileage or having more room for a growing family. Once you listen and learn, use those answers to further clarify and respond with more qualifying questions until you land on a vehicle that solves their problems. 

Practice active listening with your coworkers or managers to hone in on what it means to really shut up and listen. 

2. Know your stuff

Once you have a buyer, who’s committed enough to either be there in person or willing to come in to take a look at their next vehicle, the least you can do for that customer is to be a reputable resource for product knowledge and information. If you don’t know the answer, you should be humble enough to find the right answer for your customer and get back to them. This is far more honorable than making something up. 

Active listening will provide you with lots of information that will help you close the sale IF you know how to apply the answers properly. For example, if your active listening uncovered a desire to be more ecologically conscious, or a concern about fuel prices, you need to know which vehicles in your line offer the best fuel economy. If a customer owns a boat and wants a vehicle to tow that boat, you need to know which vehicles have the right equipment to tow properly. There are endless scenarios, but you need to be good enough to respond to every one of them.

Spend the time necessary to be an expert because experts build trust, and trust closes sales. 

3. Be empathetic 

Empathy is more than just “feeling bad” for someone when they’re in a challenging situation. True empathy is connecting with your customers by understanding their feelings and the reasons behind their feelings. 

One great example of properly expressing empathy is when helping a customer who’s been in a serious accident and is replacing their vehicle. Being in an accident is a traumatic experience that can often leave someone rattled to the point where driving no longer becomes a pleasurable or relaxing experience. Truly understanding your customer’s position and helping them get into a vehicle that offers world-class safety will not only make them feel better but will also help earn you a sale.

Empathy will help you solve your customer’s problems in more creative ways and help ensure you’re the resource that they need at that moment. 

More: The link between emotional intelligence and selling cars

4. Honesty and vulnerability 

We all know that car sales professionals have a stigma with the majority of the buying public, so the best way to avoid that stigma is to stop reinforcing stereotypes with complete honesty and vulnerability. But, do what you say you’re going to do, and own up to any mistakes you make. 

Once a customer perceives a breach in honesty, all your work to gain trust immediately goes out the window. If you don’t have a vehicle in stock when a customer calls in, don’t lie to haul them in for a bait and switch. Instead, empathize, and understand that it can be hard to find a vehicle, and offer to locate or order the right vehicle for your customers. Most people are reasonable and will appreciate that you’re trying to solve their problem instead of convincing them it doesn’t exist in the first place. 

If you do make a mistake at some point in the sales process (we’re human, after all), don’t become evasive or avoid taking responsibility. Instead, own up to the mistake you made, and make a commitment to fix it as soon as possible. Again, most people are reasonable, and holding yourself accountable will go a long way to helping you avoid irate customers. 

5. Use your CRM correctly and know when to move on

Consistent communication will help you win sales, but not if you’re doing it the wrong way. 

Your CRM system is equally important to your individual efforts, as well as the efforts of your dealership as a whole. Setting time aside on a daily basis to call back prospects that have left your store or have not set an appointment yet may yield some low-hanging fruit. It can also perform an even more crucial role: working non-buying customers out of the system. 

CRM is not designed to be a “big brother” watchful eye; it’s designed to capture potential customers and then market to them in a proven manner. Proper follow-up efforts via phone, text, and e-mail will help your dealership identify non-buying customers and instead allow some of those crucial marketing dollars to go towards other endeavors that will bring more customers into your door. 

Knowing when to quit and when to move on is just as powerful as being persistent. 

6. Be human

When dealing with a customer, remember that they aren’t all that different from you. They need something from you, and you need something from them. 

In reality, the stress of working a high-stress job, the pressures of life at home, and the pressure to succeed can all have an effect on how we treat our customers at the store. This business is feast or famine, but the best way to sit at the table of success is to treat others with respect and do your absolute best to help them achieve their goals. 

Your customers will not forget if you treat them the right way, and they’ll take great strides to make sure they tell their family and their friends about their experience as well. That’s just how rare a great car salesperson really is. 

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Alessandro Mannino
Alessandro Mannino
Alessandro is the Director of Product at He has a long-lived passion for cars and loves to help people save money on their purchase by putting vehicle history data in the hands of the consumer, giving them the leverage and negotiating power to save money and avoid potential lemons. Alessandro’s motto when it comes to cars is “it’s best not to make lemonade out of lemons when you’re making a car purchase.”

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